Mayor Murray signs historic Open Data Executive Order

EO signing

Mayor Ed Murray today renewed the City of Seattle’s commitment to transparency by signing an Executive Order directing all City departments to comply with a new open data policy, which he announced during last week’s State of the City address.

“Seattle is one of the most innovative and creative cities in the country– by opening up key City datasets to the public, we make it possible for problem solvers outside of government to get involved in finding solutions to civic challenges,” said Mayor Murray. “This Executive Order encourages more transparency between the City and outside partners, and ensures we develop tools that provide critical insights for the public on what’s happening in our city.”

The policy directs all City data to be “open by preference” – meaning City departments will always make their data as accessible as possible to the public, after screening for privacy, security, and quality considerations. This policy is the result of a collaboration between the City of Seattle, the University of Washington, and the Sunlight Foundation through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ national What Works Cities initiative.

Stephen Larrick, Open Data Project Lead at the Sunlight Foundation, which participated in initial drafting through the City’s engagement with What Works Cities, credits Seattle’s effort for a broader shift in thinking about how governments can balance open data and privacy concerns. He said, “Sunlight has long advocated for an ‘open by default’ approach to government information, but with the subtle change to ‘open by preference’–and with the nuanced policy approach to balancing transparency against privacy that language implies–the City of Seattle is proposing a new model for open data policy in a post-Snowden world.”

The University of Washington conducted a thorough review of the policy as part of its partnership with the City of Seattle under the national MetroLab Network. Jan Whittington of the University of Washington’s Tech Policy Lab said of the partnership, “We could not have asked for a more dedicated partner than the City of Seattle as we researched the hopes, concerns, and policy solutions to the problems that arise from municipal open data. With this policy, the City of Seattle is navigating the countervailing forces of transparency, privacy, and security, creating a path that promises to define the responsible release of municipal open data.”

Bill Howe, Associate Director of the eScience Intsitute and Senior Data Science Fellow at the University of Washington’s eScience Institute, added, “The City’s leadership in instituting this transformative new policy — one that balances the need for open data with the critical sensitivities around privacy, security, and quality — will serve as a model for other cities nationwide. In the context of the MetroLab Network, the UW eScience Institute is thrilled to support an emerging portfolio of urban data science projects that are directly enabled by this policy.”

Since the launch of the City’s open data program in 2010, more than 400 datasets have been made open, including several that are used by private companies, journalists, and community members. Open data also powers tools hosted on the City’s website such as Open Budget, Performance Seattle, the Police Department’s Neighborhood Crime Map, and the Department of Transportation’s Capital Projects Explorer.

In recent years, the City has expanded its Open Data Program to encourage more partnerships with the public, including initiatives such as 2015’s Hack the Commute, through which more than 140 developers and community advocates prototyped 14 new data-driven technology solutions for improving transportation in Seattle.

In 2016, the Open Data Program, which is managed by the Department of Information Technology, will focus on training employees of other departments and establishing processes that make it easier to release more data to the public. The program has set a goal of having 544 datasets available to the public by the end of 2016.

The new policy can be viewed online at http://www.seattle.gov/opendata. Existing datasets and other information about the Open Data Program are on the City’s open data portal, https://data.seattle.gov/.

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